Elif Bayraktar Tellan

Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellow (2010-2011)
Ph.D. Candidate, History, Bilkent University, Turkey

The Orthodox Patriarchate is situated in Fener in the Church of St. George (Agios Georgios) in Istanbul on the Golden Horn area (Haliç). It is the highest religious see for the Orthodox population of the world today. The history of the Patriarchate during the Ottoman period dates back to the era of Fatih Sultan Mehmed. After Byzantium was conquered by Mehmed II in 1453, one of the first things the Sultan wanted to achieve was to reinvigorate the City, which would be the new capital of the Empire. Simultaneously with the immense efforts of construction, Christians, Muslims and Jews from all over the Empire were being transferred to Istanbul for repopulation. 1

In January 1454, Gennadios Scholarios, a wise old priest, was appointed as the first Patriarch of Istanbul. 2 Gennadios was brought from captivity from Edirne where he was taken during the war. He was known for his anti-Catholic tendencies, which was a factor for his choice by the Sultan. It was important for the Sultan to know that the Patriarch, as the religious head of the Orthodox subjects, would be close to the Ottoman administration at a time when the Catholic Church of Rome posed a religious threat for the Orthodox population of the Empire.

The first Patriarchal Church during the Ottoman period was the Church of the Holy Apostles (Havariyyun Church), allotted to Gennadios. When the Sultan wanted to build his mosque and complex of Fatih on this spot, a new Church, the Church of Panagia Pammakaristos was given to the Patriarchate in 1456. Pammakaristos was turned into a mosque (Fethiye Camii) in 1586, and the Church of the Virgin Mary of Vlahsaray in Fener became the new Patriarchal center. Afterwards, the Church of St. Dimitrios in Xyloporta (Ayvansaray) was used by the Patriarchate from 1597 on. Finally the Church of St. George in Fener became the Patriarchal Church in the beginning of the seventeenth century, which is still in use today. 3

Traditionally, the Patriarch is chosen by the Synod (a council of the Patriarchate consisting of the archbishops). During the Ottoman period, the Patriarchs were chosen by the Synod, and the new Patriarch was given an official berat (document of appointment) by the Ottoman Porte upon the payment of a certain amount of money. Each time, a new Patriarch and a new Sultan was on the throne, the berats (of all Ottoman officials) were renewed. The Patriarch paid an annual amount to the Ottoman Treasury. Among the revenues of the Patriarchate were the taxes collected from the Christian subjects of the Empire. 4 It is important to note that the fiscal conditions of the Patriarchate varied during the Ottoman centuries. As the other institutions of the Ottoman society, the Patriarchate too was influenced by the economic circumstances and Ottoman policies of the period.

Historiography on the Ottoman period of the Patriarchate is not free of problems. A major problem is the projection of the nineteenth century conditions of the Patriarchate over previous Ottoman centuries. Secondary sources available to the English reader consolidate the widely accepted mistakes pertaining to the Ottoman period of the Patriarchate. 5 It is important to know that the Patriarchate was a part of the Ottoman society, and the history of the Patriarchate can not be explained without taking into consideration the Ottoman realities.

The Ottoman policies towards the Patriarchate were influenced by a number of factors. For example, the attitude of the Patriarchate towards the Roman Catholic Church was always a factor in the making of Ottoman policies. Theologically, the teachings of the Catholic Church were different than that of the Orthodox Church. However, on the intellectual level, some members of the Orthodox high clergy were inclined towards the teachings of the Catholic Church in Rome. The education of the members of the Orthodox elite in intellectual centers like Padua and Venice was a factor on this influence. On the popular level on the other hand, Orthodox subjects were hostile towards the ‘schismatic’ Catholics. The institutionalization of Catholic missionaries in 1622 under Propaganda Fide accelerated Catholic missionary activities on Ottoman lands. As a result of their efforts, a number of Orthodox people were ‘lost’ to the Catholic faith, especially on the Aegean islands. The education and health services offered by the Catholic missionaries, i.e. the Jesuits, Capuchins, Franciscan, Dominican and Benedictines, was a factor. 6 The reaction of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul to the Catholic influence in the Empire on the other hand, was variable. Although in the seventeenth century the reaction of the Patriarchs was milder to the Catholic influence, the situation changed in the eighteenth century. 7 The Patriarchs were more reactionary towards the Catholics. The change of heart of the Patriarchs towards the Catholics was not unnoticed by the Ottomans, and this became a factor in the making of Ottoman policies towards the Patriarchate. Some of the concrete examples to the results of this Ottoman policy is the expansion of the rights of the local Church of Crete by 1735, the annexation of the Patriarchates of Pec and Ochrid in 1766 and 1677, and a more stable flow of relations between the Porte and the Patriarchate. 8

In the relation between the Ottoman administration and the Patriarchate, among the actors involved apart from the administrators and the Patriarchs were the notables (archons) around the Patriarchate, the foreign ambassadors as well as the intermediaries in the Porte. The course of relationships -rather than flowing a straight course- had ups and downs. In opposition to the consideration of the Patriarchate as a static entity that lived in a vacuum, the Patriarchate should be considered as an active subject of the Ottoman world just like the other members of the Ottoman society. 9

1. See: H. İnalcık, “Istanbul: An Islamic City”, Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol.I (1990), pp. 1-23; and the same author’s “The Policy of Mehmed II Toward the Greek Population of Istanbul and the Byzantine Buildings of the City”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 23-24 (1969-70), pp. 229-249.
2. The nature and the actual scope of rights granted to Gennadios by Mehmed II is an issue discussed by historians.
3. A. Pasadaios, O Patriachikos Oikos tou Oikomenikou Thronou, (Salonica: Institute of Balkan Studies, 1976).
4. H. İnalcık, “Ottoman Archival Materials on Millets” in Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society, eds. B. Braude and B. Lewis, (New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1982), pp. 437-449; J. Kabrda, Le Système Fiscal de l’Eglise Orthodoxe dans l’Empire Ottoman (D’après les documents turcs), (Brno: Universita J. E.Purkyne, 1969).
5. For example: S. Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity (Cambridge 1968); T.H. Papadopoullos, Studies and Documents Relating to the History of the Greek Church and People under Turkish Domination (Aldershot 1990).
6. For a general reading on the relations between the Catholics and the Ottomans, see: C. A. Frazee, Catholics and Sultans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
7. See: T. Ware, Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule (Oxford 1964).
8. For Ochrid and Pec: P. Konortas, Othomanikes Theoriseis gia to Oikoumeniko Patriarcheio (17os-arches 20ou aiona), (Athens 1998), pp. 217-25. For the Church of Crete: Elif Bayraktar Tellan, “The Orthodox Church of Crete: 1645-1735, A Case Study on the Relation between Sultanic Power and Patriarchical Will”, forthcoming in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (2012).
9. The subject is being elaborated in my PhD Dissertation in progress at Bilkent University History Department.

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